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Full text of "A history of Persia"

2                     HISTORY OF PERSIA                  CHAP.
which covers one-half of the peninsula and averages some
3000 feet in altitude. Round this in every direction,
and especially to the south, lie deserts. Beyond these
wastes stretch chains of mountains, for the most part low
and barren, but in Oman to the east and in the Yemen
to the west attaining considerable elevation. The coast
line of Arabia, backed by an unbroken mountain barrier,
extends down the Red Sea to the Straits of Bab-ul- Mandeb,
or " Gate of Tears," thence in an east-north-easterly direc-
tion to Ras-ul-Hadd, and so round to the Persian Gulf,
a total distance of four thousand miles, in which hardly
a single good natural harbour or inlet is to be found. The
peninsula is therefore difficult of access from every quarter,
a fact recognized by its inhabitants, who call it Jazirat-id-
Ara^ or "the Island of the Arabs/' Nor are its internal
communications good ; for the great desert, the Rub-al-
Khali, or " Solitary Quarter," has, from time immemorial,
divided the country, separating the north from the south*
It is in consequence, perhaps, of this natural barrier that
we find at an early period the rude nomads of the north
speaking Arabic and the more civilized inhabitants of
Yemen and the south Himyarite, a tongue which died
out before the sixth century of our era, leaving Arabic
supreme*
In the physical geography of Persia we noted the
remarkable fact that between the Indus and the Shatt-ul-
Arab no river of any importance reaches the sea, Persia
is a country of riverless desert, with a rainfall of less than
ten inches in the north and perhaps five inches in the
south; but Arabia is less favoured still. There also
desert is the salient feature, and no rivers are to be
found; but both in its deserts and in its lack of water
Arabia is more " intense," to use the geographical term,
than neighbouring Iran.
The Importance of Mecca. On the trade with the
East, rather than upon any local products, depended the
prosperity of Arabia. Even as far back as the tenth
century B.C. the spices, peacocks, #nd apes of India were
brought by ship to the coast of Oman. From the Hadra-
maut, the province lying opposite India, the caravan route